I came to my interest in organizational communication by studying the idea of community as a teacher and writing groups as both a writer and teacher of writers. I have always believed very strongly in using writing groups to support the growth and development of writers and my work with the National Writing Project has only intensified that belief. However, my NWP work has also taught me the importance of community to the growth and development of all learners. And since I also believe that all successful organizations are learning organizations it seemed a natural progression to look at how organizations function as a community and learn.
An aspect of organizational communication that particularly fascinates me is the idea of social capital. Social capital is essentially the investment of your time, energy, and knowledge in a specific community and the benefits you derive from that investment. The organization’s purpose binds the community and focuses its energy, but it is social capital that fuels it. Social capital provides advantages to the individuals who possess it, but it also provides advantages to the organizations comprised of members with social capital.
I see social capital as a multiplier. If an organization is a sum of its component parts – or members – then an organization including members possessing social capital is so much more. Social capital gives leverage to do more than a single person could do alone. It is efficiently harnessing the power (time, energy, knowledge, skills) of others for a common purpose. People are willing to give of themselves, to either pay it forward or pay it back, because they can trust they will receive just as they give.
The human capital of an organization is the knowledge and skills that individual members possess, but it is the social capital that connects the human capital and amplifies it. In our information society it no longer holds true that knowledge is power as everyone has access to knowledge – in fact so much access and so much knowledge it is overwhelming, paralyzing. The organization with the most power knows how to manage the constant flow of information and leverage it to the organization’s best advantage. That leverage takes human capital and social capital. And that is why I believe social capital is a core competency for today’s professional in any field.